Some unique history about Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys

August 31, 2015

Note: Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway was the southernmost extension of his Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Miami and Homestead. Today, that same roadbed on mainland Florida, after freight-only service for over 40 years, is being returned to a double-track railroad to host the new privately funded, privately operated All Aboard Florida passenger train service, which will originate in downtown Miami in a sparkling new station/commercial building complex now being built on the same land which housed the original wooden FEC Miami passenger station in the late 19th Century through the middle of the 20th Century. The FEC roadbed will host All Aboard Florida north to Cocoa Beach where new east-west track will be laid in the right-of-way of the Beach Line Expressway, connecting the Orlando area with the Brevard County beaches. Most cities and counties on the east coast of Florida have at least one street named for Henry Flagler, the man credited with creating modern Florida. Flagler County is also named in his honor, and the county is bisected by his railroad. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 is a tragic story well known to the railroad industry in Florida. After the hurricane when the railroad right-of-way was abandoned due to the high cost of reconstruction, the right-of-way was sold to the State of Florida, which used much of the remaining bridge structures to create a new highway between Homestead of Key West. Much of that infrastructure has survived into the 21st Century. – Editor


The Labor Day Hurricane that struck the Florida Keys on September 2, 1935, was the most powerful storm to ever hit the United States. With wind gusts estimated up to 225 miles per hour and a storm surge bringing waves as high as 20 feet ashore, the hurricane was devastating.

Nearly half of the 1,000 people who were on the Florida Keys when the hurricane hit were killed. Among the dead were about half of the 300 World War I veterans working on road construction projects for the federal government.

“In 1935, this is the height of the Great Depression, so a number of Americans were out of work,” said Ben DiBiase, archivist at the Library of Florida History. “FDR and the federal government were trying to get a lot of people back to work. Unfortunately, these veterans were working in the Keys at the wrong time, during the height of the hurricane season.”

Tragically, by the time a decision was made to send a train from Miami to rescue the veterans and others living in the Keys, it was too late.

Read historian Ben Brotemarkle’s full article for Florida Today by clicking here.


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